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From the Classroom to the Operating Room

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Alumni, News

The story of how Christian de Virgilio, M.D., F.A.C.S. ’82 became a well-respected surgeon and professor of surgery is an adventure in itself, punctuated with near-misses. During his address to students, de Virgilio explained how his success began at Loyola Marymount University (LMU’s) Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering. Weaving in stories during his time at LMU and from his medical career, de Virgilio provided tips on how students can succeed in their personal and professional lives.

“It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.”
He recounted how, as a 12-year-old high school freshman determined to become a medical doctor, the College’s Associate Dean demonstrated kindness and compassion by taking time to meet with him. “The faculty was brilliant, but kind,” he said.

Among faculty, three stood out. Dr. John Wagner was de Virgilio’s toughest professor, from whom he learned the most. Dr. Thomas Reilly was the most logical, and taught him to think through problems. Dr. Roy Houston was the most inspiring. The passion and enthusiasm faculty exuded, coupled with the opportunities they provided to students inspired him to teach.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference—because it does.”
As an 11-month old infant in Argentina, de Virgilio suffered from a kidney condition that often led to death. The doctor treating him volunteered to donate his own blood, an act that saved de Virgilio’s life and inspired his professional goal. “The kind and compassionate treatment of others will have long and lasting effects,” he told students.

“Experts don’t know everything; you can learn from those who have less experience.”
He told students about a risky procedure he performed on a man with a weak heart. Partway through, the man’s heart failed and he lay lifeless for 15 minutes. While de Virgilio threw in the towel, his resident persisted with CPR. The man’s heart monitor beeped back to life. Concerned the lack of oxygen to the brain would result in a permanent vegetative state, de Virgilio was pleasantly surprised when the patient later awoke and spoke with him.

“Align yourself with successful and like-minded people in life.”
At different points in becoming a doctor de Virgilio found that his grades would not take him to the next level. At LMU, his B-average grades were unacceptable for medical school. After his first test in medical school, de Virgilio scored 87 percent, placing him in the bottom 10 percent of his class and raising concern from his instructor. He decided that focusing on his goal was critical. De Virgilio brought on a study partner, increased the time he spent studying and changed up how he studied. He rebounded.

Today de Virgilio is the interim chairman for the Department of Surgery, the director of General Surgery Residency and the vice chair of education at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. He is also the co-chair for the College of Applied Anatomy at UCLA School of Medicine, where he has been a professor of Surgery since 1993. He has been awarded numerous teaching awards and in 2012 LMU honored de Virgilio with its Distinguished Alumni award.

Though he graduated more than 30 years ago, “the lessons learned from LMU shine just as bright.”
LMU shaped his career path and influenced his motivation by providing him with tools, guidance and opportunities—the same resources available to all Seaver students.

Christian de Virgilio’s talk was delivered as a part of Seaver College of Science and Engineering’s 2nd Annual Stepping Up to Success. The series was organized by the Center for Student Success.